The Agenda: Why does North East football lurch from crisis to crisis?

There's never a dull moment with North East football teams but why do they always seem to be in crisis?

If it’s not Joe Kinnear, it’s Paolo Di Canio.

North East football’s ability to pass crises among its two biggest clubs like a hot potato knows no bounds.

After a summer bemoaning the appointment of a Director of Football at St James’ Park who seemed ill suited to the role, Sunderland have taken on the baton with the sacking of the combustible Di Canio after just five months in charge.

Last week Alan Pardew bemoaned the “extremes” of the media covering Newcastle United, reckoning the collective coverage was either soaring skywards or plummeting down towards earth.

There is, perhaps, something to be said for a reassessment of our reaction to the fluctuations of fortune over the course of a football season.

Gary Neville penned a national newspaper column on Arsene Wenger last season which should be a must-read for anyone with an interest in the national game.

He wrote: “The speed at which the football media operate today is like a blender which is constantly having food chucked into it and chopped into a thousand pieces but never has any end product.

“There’s never any substance at the end of the process. Or it’s like a sausage machine which just churns out more mincemeat rather than sausages.”

Neville’s column was not meant as an assassination of the media that now employ him.

He goes on to say he believes there is a public thirst for the “frenzy” which follows a good win or a damaging defeat.

He has a good point either way and it is probably this Pardew was talking about.

What the Newcastle manager does not factor in, however, is every event at St James’ Park is now coloured by Mike Ashley’s mismanagement of the club.

That probably sounds extreme but it is a fact patience has been spread more thinly because the owner has created a club which does little to nurse its foundations.

To borrow Neville’s analogy, Ashley tips stadium renaming, Joe Kinnear’s appointment, the lack of recruitment and a steady decline in the team’s fortunes into a blender and Newcastle supporters are expected to swallow whatever comes out. As witnessed by the attendance on Saturday, United fans are in no mood to abandon an entity which means so much to them - but if gates are holding up it is other things which suffer.

People are less patient. The result of being misled is that they are less inclined to accept explanations which might be proferred in good faith and any dispatch from the club is treated with suspicion. Defeats like Saturdays, where mistakes were made and Newcastle’s lack of defensive shape was exposed, become more trying.

When a club is run properly and its public are listened to, the whole process becomes less “extreme” (Pardew’s words, not mine). If Newcastle United’s supporters felt there was a proper plan being implemented by people who understood the club’s rich history and had a track record of success there would be a much more secure foundation for progress and success.

Instead, United’s supporters are left trying to trickily traverse a third way - supporting the team while decrying the regime. It is not easy and it doesn’t take much – a poor defeat, the failure to land players during the summer window – for that fragile consensus to be broken.

The contention of those of us who witness the way North East football works is not that the clubs themselves are destined to keep lurching from crisis to crisis because of something ingrained in the DNA. It is that until there is a proper understanding of what makes them tick from the people in charge there is bound to be further bumps along the road.

Unfortunately, there appears to be less room for people like Niall Quinn in the game these days.

Quinn was not perfect as chairman of the Black Cats: he made mistakes and called things poorly on the odd occasion - but his legacy at the Black Cats was an overwhelmingly positive one and his place as one of the most important figures in the club’s history has been secured by his time in the boardroom.

In short, Quinn ‘got it’. He had lived and breathed the club as a player and understood its culture, its quirks and the demands of its public. When he took decisions those things came into play and a trust flourished that gave Sunderland a foundation to build. That they are now an established Premier League club is in no small part down to his own efforts.

Ellis Short wears ‘FTM’ badges and drinks in the city but the greatest gift he could give to the people of Sunderland is to start communicating with them to explain the direction of the club again.

The decision to employ Di Canio was dropped on the Black Cats and left to others to explain.

To be honest, there didn’t seem like a proper explanation an,d given the pace with which it unravelled, it is not stretching logic to assert Short made a mistake.

Two years ago, North East football was at the foothills. A tempestuous derby at St James’ Park had finished 1-1 but Newcastle were battling for the Champions League places while Sunderland had an FA Cup quarter-final that looked winnable. Both teams were brimming with talent.

Since then, we’ve had Di Canio, Kinnear, Wonga and investment in transfers which has been dwarfed in other regions. It is little surprise the region’s football clubs feel depressed.

It wouldn’t take much to put both of them back on track. This morning, however, it feels further away than ever.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer